Good news for acne sufferers and students of health science alike: scientists from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Pittsburgh found 11 forms of a naturally-made virus known as a phage, which exists to specifically target the bacteria which causes acne in humans, called Propionibacterium acnes. This virus is now being explored as a non-invasive, natural treatment for acne.

“Acne affects millions of people, yet we have few treatments that are both safe and effective,” said Robert Modlin, Professor of Dermatology at UCLA. “Harnessing a virus that naturally preys on the bacteria that causes pimples could offer a promising new tool against the physical and emotional scars of severe acne.”

Acne is caused by the blocking of pores surrounding hair follicles by sebum, an oil produced on human skin to prevent dryness. The blocked pores are then easily infected by the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. The phages are able to break down the cells of this bacteria with an enzyme called endolysin, thus clearing the bacterial infection. Unlike antibiotics, which may kill helpful bacteria used in our bodies and also pose the risk of increasing bacterial immunities, these phages only target very specific types of bacteria.

“Antibiotics such as tetracycline are so widely used that many acne strains have developed resistance, and drugs like Accutane, while effective, can produce risky side effects, limiting their use,” said  Dr. Jenny Kim, co-researcher for the study and Director of the UCLA Clinic for Acne, Rosacea and Aesthetics.

While it is unlikely that we will see any new medicinal treatments utilizing these phages within the next few years, scientists are confident that this discovery will lead to a better understanding of the disease, if not an eventual cure.